Rabbi Koch to depart Temple Sholom
'The rabbi of Temple Sholom's tomorrow should be of tomorrow's generation'
Tikkun Olam -- "to fix the world."
This is the Judaic philosophy with which Rabbi Norman Koch has both lived his life and led the congregation of Temple Sholom in New Milford.
On June 30, after 35 years with the temple, Koch will retire. He leaves with love for his congregation and a belief the future belongs to the young.
His role now, as he sees it, is to be a counseling, elder voice.
"I am of a generation whose life is now closer to its sunset than its sunrise," Koch said. "My job is not to make today be like yesterday. The rabbi of Temple Sholom's tomorrow should be of tomorrow's generation."
Koch was not with the temple when Rabbi Daniel Schwartz carried the Torah across Veterans Memorial Bridge to the new synagogue building on Kent Road in 1971.
Yet he soon became an integral part of the temple's life.
Marilyn Lieff, a founding member of Temple Sholom, remembers well when Koch was that young presence for the congregation. He and his wife, Rosalyn, pregnant with their second child, came to New Milford in 1979.
"He came to us at a time when we wanted a full-time rabbi," Lieff said. "We had had student rabbis over the previous 10 years. When Norman came, he solidified the community.
"He has been with all of us through so many life experiences," Lieff said. "He's given strength to the Jewish community. He has built a lot of relationships. It will be hard for people to realize he is not any longer the rabbi."
Koch had just been ordained in 1979 at the Hebrew Union College -- Institute of Religion in New York when he was encouraged to submit his resume to the search team from New Milford.
"I was always involved in the Jewish community and always wanted to go to rabbinical school just for the learning," Koch said. "I had no interest in being a congregant rabbi. I'd already finished grad school with a degree in English literature and had a teaching position."
"I left the interview, called my wife, and said `I think we're going to New Milford,' " Koch said. "I've never looked back. I've been thoroughly happy and in love with this congregation from the moment I got here."
For the temple president, Howard Lapidus, Koch is "my rabbi."
"You don't spend 35 years with a person like Norman and not feel he is your rabbi," Lapidus said. "As the Central Conference of American Rabbis (CCAR) told us, `This was a marriage between Norman Koch and the Temple Sholom community as a whole."
"Now that marriage is ending," he added. "It's time to reassess and maybe for some to grieve.'"
Temple Sholom has been advised by the CCAR to find a highly trained interim-rabbi to serve for the next year to help the congregation move through the process of finding its new rabbi, Lapidus said.
Koch has also played a key role in the regional and national Jewish communities, as well as the Greater New Milford community.
Early on, he was a member of the bi-partisan committee established by New Milford First Selectman Cliff Chapin to study the need for affordable housing in the town.
That committee and the Affordable Housing Corporation, which he later served on, laid the groundwork for future projects that would come, Koch said.
"When I first came here, Norman was involved in housing issues," said The Rev. Mike Moran, pastor of the First Congregational Church for 24 years. "He has been a very strong voice on New Milford Hospital's Ethics Committee, starting from the time of the Pastoral Care Committee and through its many stages."
Temple Sholom had met in the parish hall of the First Congregational Church from 1959 until the building of the present synagogue on Kent Road in 1971.
There had been a close bond between the two congregations since the 1950s when Rev. A. Russell Ayre opened the church doors to the Hebrew congregation.
"Anything we've done over the years through the New Milford Clergy Association, Norman has been a strong presence. You could always count on his support," Moran said.
Former New Milford Mayor Liba Furhman has been a member of Temple Sholom since moving to town with her family in 1983.
"Rabbi Koch was a very welcoming presence," Furhman said. "He is a man of many hats. He's devoted 100 percent-plus of himself and his time to the temple. He is a passionate, caring and very giving person."
Furhman noted Koch is leaving a "very solid foundation which the new rabbi and congregation will be able to build on and expand."